9 Features That Give Away Your Home’s Decade
Just as a Farrah Fawcett hairdo screams 1970s, design elements of your home can also identify the time period when it was built or renovated.
The Mamie Eisenhower Pink Bathroom, 1950s and 60s
When Dwight D. Eisenhower was president from 1953 to 1961, his wife Mamie turned the White House into the Pink House, using her favorite color everywhere. And Americans followed her lead. One unofficial estimate claims five million pink bathrooms were built in the 20 million+ U.S. homes constructed from 1946 through 1966.
Some think the pink fixtures look dated, and many of the Mamie-pink powder rooms have been torn out. But if you’ve got one, hold on to it — it’s a rose-colored time capsule.
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Scallop Wood Trim in Kitchens, Mid-20th Century
Watch a few 1950s and 60s sitcoms — the kind where pearl-wearing Mom is always home baking cookies — and you’ll likely see scallop wood trim in the kitchen, especially over the sink.
Architectural historian and author Jane C. Busch says in her book Homes in the Suburban Era, 1946-1970, that scallop trim is “associated with early American style.” It dates from as early as the 1920s, though it was most popular in the mid-20th century.
Chair Rails, Most Popular Before World War II
Chair rails, as defined in our DIY dictionary, are “horizontal moldings applied to walls designed to protect them from ‘irrationally exuberant’ chairs on the move.” They’re not altogether gone, either. Busch says chair rail was most popular in the decades leading up to World War II, but is still used in traditional homes today.
Conversation Pits, 1960s and 70s
Is there a sunken, centrally located space in your living room? You may have that hippie-era favorite, a conversation pit. This trend made for comfortable and intense rap sessions back when “rap sessions” was something people said. Don’t fill it in! As we reported in 2020, this home trend, which encourages socializing, is making an unexpected comeback.
Home Bars, Post-World War II
After World War II, American GIs came home and started spreading out to the suburbs, where there wasn’t a tavern on every corner. So they brought the tavern home, building sometimes-elaborate home bars, often in basements or rec rooms, where they could let the good times roll.
Does yours have an island flair? “With the popularity of the Polynesian style in the 1950s and 1960s, basement bars often became tiki bars,” Busch says.
Split-Level Homes, Mid-20th Century
“The split-level house originated as a design for sloping lots, but it came into prominence suddenly in the 1950s as a way to get a bigger house on a smaller lot,” Busch says. This home style staggers the two levels, usually with two short staircases right at the main entry, often with the kitchen upstairs, and sometimes with bedrooms on both levels.
Busch notes that the 1960s saw two-story homes regain their popularity and split-levels fall from fashion.
Home Intercom Systems, 1950s and 60s
Today, parents can text or use a virtual assistant such as Alexa to speak to someone in another part of the house. But home intercoms did that job back in the day. Is there still an intercom system in your home? If it says NuTone on it, it could date back to 1954, although Atomic Ranch magazine notes that the 1960s and 1970s were the home-intercom heyday.
“My parents’ house, built in 1957, had a built-in intercom system,” Busch says. “My mother wanted it so she could monitor her young children.”
Built-In Breakfast Nooks, 1920s and 30s
Does your kitchen have a charming little hideaway for eating, perhaps with a built-in table and seats? Busch notes these were especially popular in Craftsman-style homes of the 1920s and 1930s. One site devoted to Sears catalog homes points out these fit nicely into bungalows and were less work to clean up than a formal dining room table.
Glass Blocks, 1980s
Walls made of glass block are as 1980s as leg warmers and jelly shoes. They may seem dated, but they have their benefits. These translucent design elements are praised by some real estate brokers for the light and insulation they provide. And, like, they’re totally tubular!